This year's season of Mets baseball hasn't gotten off to the most positive start. The team is supposed to contend for a second consecutive division championship, and yet it just dropped two series in a row to Miami and Philadelphia at home. That kind of performance almost makes you welcome a road trip to face an Indians team that appears superior to the opponents that beat the Mets at Citi Field.
2016 hasn't been all rainbows and marshmallows for Cleveland, though. The squad, led by veteran manager and World Series champion Terry Francona, has already had three games postponed this year due to unpleasant Midwestern weather. And while the Indians have performed adequately in the game they've been able to get in, they find themselves in fourth place of the crowded American League Central due to hot starts by Kansas City, Detroit, and the White Sox.
That's not a good spot to start for a group that is a dark horse candidate to win the AL pennant despite just one postseason appearance since 2007. Yet, the Indians have plenty of talent on board with as skilled a pitching staff as you'll find in the junior circuit. Sunday's starter Corey Kluber had a disappointing 9-16 record a 3.49 ERA last year following his Cy Young campaign of 2014, but the 30-year-old's outstanding strikeout (245) and walk (45) figures in his 222 innings from 2015 tell us that he's still one of the very best hurlers in the game.
Right behind Kluber in the Cleveland rotation are two guys that the Mets are fortunate to miss this weekend. Former Phillies farmhand Carlos Carrasco has transformed over the past two years from someone with back-of-the-rotation potential to a phenom taking the league by storm with his outstanding strikeout and ground ball rates. The 26-year-old Danny Salazar isn't as polished as Kluber or Carrasco, but his high velocity-stuff has paved the way for him to become an intimidating starter in his own right.
What about the guys facing the Mets on Friday and Saturday, though? After being picked by the Indians in the 14th round of the 2011 amateur draft, Cody Anderson made it through the Cleveland farm system as a control guy. Last year, in his major league debut season, he posted a 3.05 ERA in 91.1 innings despite only striking out 44 batters. Anderson's .237 BABIP and 4.27 FIP suggest that 2015 was a smoke-and-mirrors illusion, so hopefully the Mets can cash in with an opposing pitcher who draws a lot of contact.
|Date||Time||Television||Mets Probable Starter||Indians Probable Starter|
|April 15, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Bartolo Colon||Cody Anderson|
|April 16, 2016||4:10 PM||WPIX||Matt Harvey||Josh Tomlin|
|April 17, 2016||1:10 PM||SNY||Steven Matz||Corey Kluber|
Another man whom New York can hopefully hit hard is Saturday's starter Josh Tomlin. The 31-year-old right-hander has been floating around Cleveland's system for years, but in 2015 he showed some real upside after missing the first half of the season with a shoulder injury. Over the final two months, Tomlin produced a 3.02 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 65.2 innings thanks to 57 strikeouts and a minuscule eight walks. The only downside was the other ridiculous figure in Tomlin's stat line: the 13 home runs allowed. That translates to about 40 dingers in a 200-inning workload. While Tomlin is not as contact-prone as Anderson, he's another guy with a glaring weakness that the Mets can exploit to break their offense out of the doldrums.
With three right-handers on the mound for the Indians, look for the Mets to use a lineup similar to those they rolled out against Kansas City in the first two games of the season. Michael Conforto will probably continue to be the designated hitter despite his great defensive performance last year while Yoenis Cespedes mans either left or center field depending on whether Terry Collins puts Juan Lagares or Alejandro De Aza in the lineup.
The Cleveland offense will be looking to take advantage of slow starts from both Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, who will both be trying to live up to expectations this weekend. Matz in particular could be in trouble as the Indians' lineup features just one regular left-handed hitter in veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis. The two-time All-Star is coming off of a terrific 2015 campaign in which he hit .303/.372/.451, but his game features a platoon split that southpaws can take advantage of.
Injuries to other left-handed regulars Lonnie Chisenhall (wrist) and Michael Brantley (shoulder) have forced Cleveland to insert a collection of former Mets into the batting order. The absence of Chisenhall means that Juan Uribe gets plenty of playing time at third base, while Brantley's disabled list stint opens up spots in the lineup for Marlon Byrd and Collin Cowgill.
Neither former Mets outfielder is doing much on offense so far, but just you wait. I'm sure one or both of them is cooking up something special just to drive the Queens faithful a little bit crazier. Meanwhile, the guy Mets fans should really be worried about is rising star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Known more for his on-base ability and his outstanding glove during his prospect days, Lindor showed up in the big leagues last June and hit .313/.353/.482 with a whopping 12 home runs in 438 plate appearances. That would have been good for AL Rookie of the Year honors if another shortstop-of-the-century candidate named Carlos Correa hadn't made his debut at the same time.
What a fun-loving guy. Doesn't he know that baseball is not supposed to be fun? The Mets appear to be learning that the hard way with the way they have drawn criticism to themselves so early in the season. Fortunately we're just a couple of wins away from everything being just fine and dandy again, so let's enjoy this series and not worry so much about expectations for a little while. Sarcasm aside, this is baseball. It's supposed to be fun. For fans and even for players.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.
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